Theatre Albany ready to raise curtain on ‘Anne of Green Gables’

Apr 14, 2015

By Jim Hendricks, Albany Herald

ALBANY — Anne Shirley, based on the central character of the book series by Canadian author Lucy Maud (L.M.) Montgomery, will come to the stage in Albany to work her magic on the residents of Prince Edward Island when the curtain rises Friday evening on Theatre Albany’s production of “Anne of Green Gables.”

“She (Montgomery) wrote it in the early 20th century,” Theatre Albany Director Mark Costello said last week before a dress rehearsal for the show that opens at 8 p.m. Friday. “It was a series of books, and this (play) is based on the first book.”

“Anne of Green Gables” is the story of Anne Shirley, a “loquacious orphan” who overcomes odds, misadventures and misconceptions to win the hearts of a farm couple, and their friends and acquaintances. The play was adapted from Montgomery’s 1908 novel of the same name by R.N. Sandberg.

The story involves two siblings in their 50s or 60s — Matthew and Marilla Gilbert — who own a farm named Green Gables in the fictional town of Avonlea on Prince Edward Island. They intend to adopt a boy to help them with the farm work, but are surprised when a young, freckled face red-haired girl shows up instead.

Their initial reaction is to send her back to Nova Scotia, where Anne has lived in various foster homes. While Marilla doesn’t warm up to the talkative girl as quickly as Matthew does, the Gilberts decide to let her stay with them on the farm.

Anne’s being brought to life on the Theatre Albany stage by Natalie Etheridge, a 16-year-old student at Sherwood Christian Academy.

Two young actors — Catherine Tiefert, a 15-year-old home-schooled student who plays Anne’s close friend Diana Barry, and Keith Peacock, a 13-year-old Lee County Middle School student who plays Anne’s school rival and antagonist Gilbert Blythe — join Natalie on stage.

Alan Thornton and Kathleen Stroup play Matthew and Marilla. Kelly Mullins portrays Diana’s mother, Mrs. Barry, and Kate Funk plays Rachel Lynde, the nosiest person in town. Jamie Green is Mr. Phillips, Anne’s first school teacher who she despises, and Vickie Lewis is Mrs. Blewett.

“It’s just about her (Anne) charming her way into their lives,” Costello said. “She wins the hearts of everybody in the show.”

But it’s a rocky pathway for Anne, who marches to her own beat. “She’s got a wild imagination,” Costello said.

Misadventures don’t help, such as a mix-up that leads Anne to give wine to Diana, getting her tipsy, and another that leads Marilla to believe Anne has swiped her prized broach, an offense Anne admits to so that Marilla will go ahead and punish her and let her play with Diana again. Her tell-it-like-it-is tendency gets her in trouble with Lynde, who is impressed by Anne’s heartfelt apology.

Gilbert, who mercilessly teases Anne about her red, braided hair, also becomes her rival at school. Sparked to work harder at her studies because the teacher looks down upon her, Costello said, “She’s competing with Gilbert to be the best scholar.”

Montgomery based the novel on notes she’d made as a young girl about a couple who were mistakenly sent an orphan girl instead of the boy they requested, but decided to keep her. Drawing on her own childhood experiences in Prince Edward Island, Montgomery clipped a photo of Evelyn Nesbitt from the copy of a New York magazine and placed it on the wall of her bedroom, using it as the model for Anne’s face.

Natalie said that she hadn’t read the book, the first in the turn-of-the-20th-century series, on which the play is based. “I haven’t yet,” she said before a rehearsal last week. “I’m planning on reading it this weekend.”

This is also her first acting role with Theatre Albany. She was one of the carolers who sang between scenes during the theater’s production of “Dashing Through the Snow” last December. “I sang during the intermission of the Christmas show,” she said. “I haven’t exactly been on stage.”

While she has some pre-curtain butterflies as the title character, she said that she enjoys acting and that, for her, the hardest part of stage performance is when she’s “not doing it.”

She’s been getting some stage time at Sherwood. “I’m currently in ‘Twelve Angry Women,’” Natalie said. In addition to that retake of “Twelve Angry Men,” she performed in the school’s January production of “Singing in the Rain.”

Asked whether it was difficult adjusting to a style of language from a century ago, Natalie said that it was “not too bad.”

“Anne of Green Gables” opens with an 8 p.m. performance Friday, followed by 8 p.m. show Saturday and April 23-25. Sunday matinees are set for 2:30 p.m. April 19 and 26.

The production is directed by Costello, with set design by Steve Felmet. The backstage crew is headed by Stage Manager Mary Lou Beasley and the master electrician is Tom Parker. Ann Brim Streat is in charge of the make-up and hair with the help of Jennifer Knighton.

Tickets are $20, adult; $15, senior, and $10, student or active military. Contact the box office at (229) 439-7141. The theater is located at 514 Pine Ave.

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